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Last Blog as President and Founder of CORE: On the Shoulders of Giants

Linda Diamond“Once you learn to read you will be forever free.” Frederick Douglass

As I get ready to retire from CORE in late December, I have been looking back at all of those who guided us along the way. CORE started inside an education, public policy think tank because of the willingness and vision of my then boss, Paul Berman. He, in turn, was urged by Marion Joseph, a grandmother with political acumen and a former California state board of education member, who saw the damage being done to children in California who were not learning to read. Bill Honig, California’s former superintendent, Anne Cunningham, Sheila Mandel, and Ruth Nathan and I took a leap in 1995 and decided to create what was first called the Consortium on Reading Excellence (now known as CORE, Inc.). We knew that a strong body of research existed, then over 30 years’ worth, but it had not made its way into the field. California’s reading scores were awful and whole language was the main approach.

So, with the help of Joe Torgesen, Ed Kame’enui, Doug Carnine, Louisa Moats, Barbara Foorman, John Shefelbine, Shane Templeton, and later Isabel Beck, we launched CORE. These experts placed their faith in us because they wanted the knowledge to move from the research field into teaching practice. Our current Advisory Board members, Scott Baker, Elsa Cárdenas-Hagen, David Chard, Steve Dykstra, Sherril English, Claude Goldenberg, Zaretta Hammond, Michelle Hosp, Ed Kame’enui, Rick Miller, Louisa Moats, Mark Shinn, and Shane Templeton, continue to guide us and keep us on the straight path. We miss our dear friend, colleague, and my shoe-shopping companion Phyllis C. Hunter, who first spoke about Reading as a Civil right. But there have always been others to whom we have gone for advice: Anita Archer, Kevin Feldman, Alice Furry, David Kilpatrick, Reid Lyon, Louise Spear-Swerling, and Tim Shanahan. Because we are an organization that bases the work we do in literacy and math on research, evidence guides us and so we rest on the shoulders of these giants.

My own journey started as a high school English teacher with my degree in Medieval English Literature with an emphasis on the Miracle and Morality Plays. This meant for certain that I had no idea how to teach reading. Yet my first teaching job required me to teach 22 high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors who were struggling readers. I was blessed, however, to be led to my hero, Siegfried Engelmann, and Direct Instruction. If it were not for Ziggy, I probably would have left the profession. He taught me how to teach reading. Later, I was guided by another incredible educator, Marva Collins, who taught me that anything is possible, that all children can excel, and that if they do not succeed, the fault lies with us, not with them. From Ziggy and Marva, I brought that passion to CORE.

Just like Ziggy and Marva, CORE began and continues to work in school systems with our most marginalized students. For years we provided the only PD in reading and math to the Bureau of Indian Education reservation schools and to remote Alaskan Native populations. Because CORE has always been committed to equity and educational justice, we have not chosen the easy schools where students have access to resources that the school or their families provide if extra support is needed. CORE chose a different path. We may be the only organization that has a consultant who became an honorary tribal member or another consultant who went out on “Moose Patrol” duty while at a remote Alaskan school or a consultant who helicoptered down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to serve a reservation. I am proud that CORE has made a difference for so many students and teachers.

But we lost many of our friends and supporters over these many years, in addition to Ziggy and Marva and Phyllis Hunter. We lost our dear friend John Shefelbine. John was a constant cheerleader for reading done right, and his legacy lives on at CORE with our partnership with the Collaborative Classroom to support SIPPS. Other important friends we lost include Glen Thomas, a former state assistant superintendent and education secretary who was a constant supporter; Kathy Cooper, an amazing educator in Sacramento who also was a warrior for reading; Leslie Schwarze, a tireless advocate for research-based instructional materials whose passion for improving reading for underserved students cannot be overstated; and Jill Jackson, who was one of the most gifted trainers and reading professional development experts in the country.

And then there are our consultants and our educators. It is hard to come up with superlatives to characterize them all adequately. Some of our consultants have been with us right from the start, like Teresa Roeder since 1997, and then Lauren Greenberg a year later, and then a bit later Susan Van Zant, then Nancy McGivney and then Nancy Volpe. Some joined us and left only to return, Tina Pelletier and Dale Webster and Cris Goldy (they can’t stay away). What all of our consultants have in common is a passion to make a difference in the learning trajectory of children and the teachers who teach them. Then there are our clients. We have schools and districts that have honored us by having our consultants support them for many years. To the countless educators who have worked so hard and so relentlessly to ensure that their students realize strong achievement and close inequitable gaps, I must say “bless you.”

It has been a challenging time for many of our consultants during this pandemic, but I have seen them gamely and confidently move from the face-to-face professional learning to which they were accustomed to providing the same excellent service remotely. And to all the staff at CORE who provide the important support and structures that have enabled us to do the work, I can only say, “Thank you.”

As I prepare to leave, I know that CORE is in capable hands. Dale Webster, our superb chief academic officer, will continue to shepherd our work; Carrie Thomas Beck, a new addition as director of literacy, is a brilliant and knowledgeable educator with a strong background in understanding dyslexia; Dean Ballard, our director of math, has created outstanding math services based on research evidence; and Cris Goldy, who returned to us, is bringing years of experience and strong leadership.

What will I do after CORE? Certainly, I intend to remain an advocate for policy changes to ensure that effective reading practices take root. BJ Thorsnes, one of our great former consultants, and I will try to write a book for teachers to use to actually teach writing well. We have talked about this for years. Now is the time. I also will continue to do some consulting, but CORE and all our schools will never be far from my thoughts.

The old guard is moving on. Many of us who started out as early advocates for the science of reading are either retired or retiring. But thankfully, others are keeping this work going, strong voices all.

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